The Damascus declaration, which was signed in 2005, was put into practice in order to gather the disorganized Syrian opposition. Different opposition groups, composed of liberals, Arab tribes, businessmen, the Kurds and the non-governmental organizations, signed the Declaration. The Syrian regime arrested many people after the publication of the declaration, and as a result the signatories had to carry out their activities out of Syria. One of the participants of the Syrian opponents conference in Antalya was the Damascus Declaration group, and four seats were reserved for the group in the Committee that was created. We made an interview with Anas Abdullah, who is the Head of the Group, who assumed role in the organization of the Antalya conference, and at the same time who is the Leader of the Syrian Justice and Development Movement that he created as a result of his inspiration by the AK Party (Justice and Development Party) in Turkey, on the future of the opposition social movements in Syria, the consequences of the Antalya conference, and their expectations from Turkey.
What are the differences between the Ikhwan and the other parties?
There was no difference; it is only basic exchange of opinions. They were talking about the final communiqué. Some people gave some suggestions for some proposed point for the final communiqué. One of the proposals was that the future of Syria should be secular. Some people point that this proposal is already a part of the communiqué. They replied by saying it should not be secular, and argued that Islam should play an important role. We tried to explain that these are only suggestions. We have a committee that would work on the final communiqué and most probably it would not talk about this sensitive issue. We leave it to the Syrian people to decide within the context of what we are calling is a democratic and civilian state governed and controlled by civilians. Then it is up to the Syrian people to decide exactly the nature of their constitution, the role of Islam and other religions in their life. Some people thought that these suggestions are already a part of it, but it is not.
Some criticize about the election of the committee. You say that the committee was elected by people while other parties objected and said no, they give seats for the divan. Could you explain the exact problem?
In order to elect a committee of thirty one people, we decided that it should be elected according to the lists. Whoever wants to propose a list, can propose a thirty one people list and people will be able to elect which list they want, this way. We will be able to have as many representations as possible. If we go for a direct election we might miss some important elements of the national spectrum. That is because, you know, we don’t have many Christians, Alawites, Druze. If you go for direct elections, you might miss important elements of the Syrian society. This is why we suggest a proposal list of names.
What if you don’t satisfy with your demands is there any possibility that you withdraw from the conference?
There is no withdrawal. People will talk and agree. There will be a consensus. This is a normal way. This is the first time for the Syrian people to talk.
What is Ikhwan’s approach regarding an Islamic state?
I’m not from Ikhwan by the way. Ikhwan has moved very progressively on this, and they are calling for a civilian state, which is not controlled by any specific religion.
Was it your choice or did Turkey encourage you to have this conference here?
First of all, we feel very grateful to the Turkish people and the Turkish state. It is because of this rather progressive experiment of freedom and democracy in Turkey, we are able to have this conference here. We did not have to ask for permission for this conference. We could have this conference in any of the European countries. Because we have the same standard here, it makes more sense to have it in Turkey. We have a historical relationship.
It was our choice. Firstly, that is because it is a neighboring country. Secondly, I can say that there are certain affiliations with Turkey. Turkey represents something positive. Especially in the last ten years, the success of the experiment of the Justice and Development Party inspired us; even I with my colleagues start a movement for justice and development, which is inspired by your model. Almost everybody in Syria looks to Turkey with anticipation. This helps us a lot. When we have a conference in Turkey, everybody tends to be friendly. We are not going to any other country that has a problem with Syria. It is a neighboring country. Antalya, in the southern part, is very close to our homeland. It really makes much more sense.
Can you see any possibility that Turkey can do more to support the opposition?
I think the Turkish people need to realize that the real interests of Turkey would be served more with a democratic Syria than an autocratic Syria. Basher Assad is not good news for Turkey. In the past, Turkish establishment invested in Basher’s regime both politically and financially.
Which period do you mean?
During the JDP government, Turkey invested in Basher and his regime. That’s why Erdogan and his colleagues are very nervous now. Because, with that kind of investment you expect some paybacks, Erdogan tried his best to warn Basher, even before the start of the revolution. Assad said “No, we are immune”. Erdogan was right, Basher was wrong; revolution started. Erdogan made really important comments in support of the Syrian people. However, by saying that I think Turkey should take slightly more assertive measures for supporting the opposition, because a democratic Syria is a strategic interest to Turkey. I know Turkey is not happy for the reason that Basher represents some kind of instability in the region. We know instability is bad for Turkey. This is why we want a peaceful transition of power if possible. If not, then I’m sure we will need the help and backing of Turkey during the transition period both in terms of providing help and support but also in terms of providing knowledge regarding constitution, new laws, labor laws, association laws. I hope very soon we will start to import Turkish experiment and implement in Syria. I hope the Movement of Justice and Development will be spearheading that.
* This interview was carried out during the “Change in Syria Conference”, which was organized in Antalya, on June 2nd 2011, by Prof. Dr. Veysel Ayhan, ORSAM Middle East Advisor; and Oytun Orhan, ORSAM Middle East Expert.